Where is all this Kentucky education progress we are always hearing about?

Our blacks certainly are not seeing it

It seems like every time we turn around, someone from Kentucky’s education complex is telling us “We’ve made a lot of progress here in Kentucky” in education.

Well, I am sorry, but that just isn’t what I see in the data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). I just updated some of the numbers, and especially for Kentucky’s major minority population, claiming the state has “made a lot of progress” seems like a cruel deception.

Figure 1 shows the earliest and latest available scores for Kentucky’s black students from the NAEP Grade 4 and Grade 8 reading and math assessments.

Figure 1


The first thing you will note is that there is plenty of “white space” above the latest, 2015 proficiency rates. How can you talk about “a lot of progress” when, as of the latest 2015 NAEP results, Kentucky’s blacks are reporting proficiency rates only around 23 percent and lower?

The truth is that Kentucky has made limited progress over the quarter of a century since the Kentucky Education Reform Act of 1990 was enacted. However, the rate of improvement has been very slow and our black students have a very, very long way to go before they see the kinds of proficiency rates they need.

How long will it take?

Check this table, which is derived from data in Figure 1. This shows the projected time for Kentucky’s black students to reach an 80 percent proficiency rate on the NAEP’s tests.

Table 1


As you can see, based on Kentucky’s actual, demonstrated progress, it will take the Bluegrass State’s black students 87 years to reach an 80 percent proficiency level on the NAEP Grade 4 Reading Assessment and an astonishing 277 years before our black eighth graders to do the same in reading!

Math doesn’t look much better. Kentucky’s black fourth graders will need 81 more years to reach an 80 percent proficiency rate in NAEP math. For the eighth grade blacks, we are looking at 170 more years to reach that proficiency level!

Now you can better understand why – after more than a quarter of a century of promises from our traditional public school system about improving performance of the state’s minority students – it is way past time for Kentucky to look to other education options. Viable options include school choice with charter schools and even tuition tax credit approaches to make good on a 25+ year promise that has not come true for our minority citizens.

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Common Core fans get criticism, graph wrong

Hot: Update #1

It appears the Collaborative has heard from us. They already posted a correction for their error about the PARCC test being used in Kentucky. So far, however, they are mum about the other concerns I raise in this blog. This is a very strange situation!

(Begin my original blog)

My recent blog, “Where have all the school tests gone?” apparently hit some nerves at the Collaborative for Student Success, a well-known Common Core State Standards (CCSS) cheerleader. They just had to respond, apparently.

But, the Collaborative gets its comments wrong, starting with the article’s graph, which I annotated in the graphic below to make the deficiencies easier to understand.


The Collaborative’s graph starts right out with “Novice” performance (bottom possible score in Kentucky’s assessment programs), including neither a title nor a vertical axis label. The year labels for the KPREP tests in the legend are also inconsistent.

After doing some research that included digging up the real scores, it turns out the graph shows the percentage of Kentucky students who scored Proficient or above on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) Grade 4 Reading and Grade 8 Math Assessments in 2015. The graph also includes proficiency rate results (the combined percentage of students scoring Proficient and Distinguished) from Kentucky’s KPREP tests in 2013-14 and 2014-15 for those same grades and subjects.

But, aside from the labeling deficiencies, there is another interesting problem: the KPREP scores are listed backwards. While a casual examination of the graph would make you think the scores increased between 2013-14 and 2014-15, in fact the opposite is true. Kentucky’s KPREP scores for both Grade 4 reading and Grade 8 math DECLINED between those years. That isn’t exactly a ringing endorsement of Common Core.

I don’t know and won’t speculate about whether this was a conscious attempt to mislead, but it certainly isn’t good data presentation.

The graph does highlight something else that the Collaborative would probably not want to admit: Kentucky’s KPREP scores do look inflated compared to the NAEP. That doesn’t agree with the Collaborative blog’s closing comment that:

“States like Kentucky are headed in the right direction by setting expectations high and evaluating progress toward those goals.”

Data the Collaborative cares to share shows Kentucky headed in the opposite direction.

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Bluegrass Institute urges legislators to support pension transparency

bipps-logoBluegrass Institute President Jim Waters offered the following prepared testimony supporting making individual public retirees’ benefits transparent at a recent meeting of the Public Pension Oversight Board in the Capitol Annex in Frankfort:

I would like to thank the members of the Public Pension Oversight Board for the invitation to participate in this meeting today.

The Bluegrass Institute is a state-based, nonpartisan, nonprofit research-and-education organization that offers free-market solutions to Kentucky’s greatest challenges based on the principles of economic prosperity, individual liberty, a respect for the lives and properties of others, and limited, transparent and open government.

Since the Bluegrass Institute’s founding 13 years ago, making government at every level – federal, state, county and local – more transparent has been a vital part of our mission.

We’ve found strong support for our efforts on both sides of the political aisle, including from leading policymakers in both parties. Influential Kentuckians from former state Auditor Adam Edelen and former Assistant Attorney General Amye Bensenhaver to legislative leaders, including Sens. Chris McDaniel, Joe Bowen, Jimmy Higdon, Damon Thayer and Rep. Kenny Imes, as well as representatives of Rotary clubs, tea parties and other liberty and good-government groups – have joined with the Bluegrass Institute to work to make government more open across the board, including as such openness relates to local taxing districts, the state Board of Education and legislators’ votes.

Influential Kentuckians from former state Auditor Adam Edelen and former Assistant Attorney General Amye Bensenhaver to legislative leaders, including Sens. Chris McDaniel, Joe Bowen, Jimmy Higdon, Damon Thayer and Rep. Kenny Imes, as well as representatives of Rotary clubs, tea parties and other liberty and good-government groups – have joined with the Bluegrass Institute to work to make government more open across the board, including as such openness relates to local taxing districts, the state Board of Education and legislators’ votes.

While this board has demonstrated strong, ongoing support for shining a brighter light on the retirement systems’ investment fees and practices, we respectfully ask you to expand your strong support for transparency into the largely untouched arena of benefit structures in general, and more specifically, benefits paid to individual retirees and how these benefits were determined.

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This school choice round table meets tomorrow, Tuesday October 25, 2016 at 3 pm at:

Midwest Church of Christ
2115 Garland Avenue
Louisville, KY

Panelists Include:

Lt. Governor Jenean Hampton
Pastor Jerry Stephenson, Pastor Midwest Church of Christ
Heather Huddleston, Executive Director of School Choice Scholarships
Robert Blair, Former Headmaster at KCD and founder of the West End School
Richard Innes, Bluegrass Institute Education Analyst
Dr. Gary Houchens, Bluegrass Institute Board of Scholars Member
Phil Moffett, State Representative
Shenita Rickman, Candidate for State Senate

Check it out, and find out how many centuries it will take for Kentucky’s black students to reach an 80 percent proficiency rate on the National Assessment of Educational Progress Grade 8 reading and math assessments. You will be astonished!

Where have all the school tests gone?

As Kentucky and other states continue using the Common Core State Standards for K to 12 education, it has never been more important to have accurate trend information from valid and reliable assessments to evaluate whether these controversial standards are really working for our kids.

But, almost all testing trend lines of use in Kentucky from ACT, Inc.’s EXPLORE, PLAN and COMPASS to even the nationwide data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress’ (NAEP) “Long Term Trend” assessments (LTT) have been severed.

How convenient for Common Core supporters who might be worried about what those discontinued tests might reveal.

How BAD for our kids.

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More funding nonsense about Kentucky education??

It seems like every time I log on to the Internet, someone is trying to claim that Kentucky has seen a disastrous decline in state education funding since the recession started in 2008. The latest example is in a Center on Budget and Policy Priorities’ report about “After Nearly a Decade, School Investments Still Way Down in Some States.” This report claims in its Figure 3 that Kentucky experienced an 8.5 percent decline in inflation-adjusted dollars for state funding for education between 2008 and 2014.

I have questions about that. You see, the Kentucky Department of Education has audited annual financial statements readily available online that show something quite different, at least for funding our school districts receive.

According to Kentucky’s “Receipts and Expenditures 2007-2008” report, the total state revenue to the districts (state only, not local or federal), was $2,863,968,902 in that school year.

The “Revenues and Expenditures 2013-2014” report shows in that more recent year the total state education revenue given to the districts was $3,868,174,888.

I should add that these are audited, final amounts.

Now, according to the very handy Bureau of Labor Statistics CPI Inflation Calculator, $3,868,174,888 in current 2014 dollars would be worth $3,517,967,940 in inflation-adjusted 2008 dollars.

Obviously, $3,517,967,940 inflation-adjusted dollars spent in 2013-14 would equate to about 23 percent MORE real revenue to districts than the $2,863,968,902 state revenue districts actually received in 2007-08 in Kentucky.

I hope to hear from the lead author of the CBPP report about what they examined, because their figures do not agree with the actual total state funding our school districts received. And, if our state funding reports are off as much as the CBPP paper would indicate, we need to know that, too.

News release: Dozens sign Bluegrass Institute’s transparency pledge

Pledge shows support for legislative pension-system transparency, gives citizens another accountability tool and opens the door to future reformssmall-version-of-the-pledge

For Immediate Release: Wednesday, Oct. 19, 2016
Contact: Jim Waters @ 270.320.4376

(LEXINGTON, Ky.) —  Nearly 70 incumbents and candidates for state House and Senate seats vowed support for open, accessible and accountable government by signing the newly created Bluegrass Institute Legislative Pension Transparency Pledge. 

A complete list of pledge signers can be viewed here.

The 67-word pledge vows support for “making the commonwealth’s legislative pension system fully transparent, including requiring the disclosure of the name, status and projected actual retirement benefits and benefit payments from the Legislators’ Retirement Plan, Judicial Retirement Plan, Kentucky Teachers’ Retirement System and Kentucky Retirement Systems of all current and former members of the General Assembly.”

Copies of the pledge and a self-addressed stamped envelope were sent in September to all incumbents and challengers seeking state legislative offices on the Nov. 8 ballot, as well as retiring lawmakers or those who lost primary bids.

“The pledge is a tool to assist constituents in holding their legislators accountable while also giving conscientious policymakers an effective means of taking an important step forward toward further reforming Kentucky’s worst-in-the-nation public-pension crisis,” Bluegrass Institute president Jim Waters said. “Transparency will create an army of well-informed citizens, equipping them to demand and support policies that effectively address the biggest threat to the commonwealth’s economic security.”

Lawmakers or candidates wanting to add their name to the list may do so by signing the pledge and sending it to the Bluegrass Institute at P.O. Box 11706, Lexington, KY 40577-1706.

A copy of the pledge for signing may be printed out here.

For more information, please contact Jim Waters at jwaters@freedomkentucky.com, 859.444.5630 ext. 102 (office) or 270.320.4376.

Grad rates up, but is education better?

President Obama stepped into the education spotlight today to claim that high school graduation rates across the country have reached a new high. Naturally, this got immediate coverage in just about every media outlet, the Washington Post being no exception.

It sounds very encouraging until you read most of the way through the Post’s article. Then you learn:

“Experts say that high school graduation rates are an important measure of school success and academic progress, but they also say not to put too much stock in them.”

The Post cites one rather disturbing reason:

“According to the National Assessment of Educational Progress, known as the “Nation’s Report Card,” high school students have not shown academic progress in recent years: In 2015, high school seniors posted lower scores in reading than they did in 1992, and their math scores were unchanged across the past decade.”

So, it looks like more kids across the nation are getting promoted to educationally deficient high school diplomas. The increasing graduation numbers do not indicate kids are getting better educations.

Here in Kentucky, we can look at more than just scores from the National Assessment of Educational Progress. The Bluegrass Institute has done exactly that.

One of our analysis approaches compares the state’s high school graduation rates to the proportion of those graduates who have been able to meet even one of the numerous ways they could be considered college and/or career ready.

Another approach examines the regulatory requirement that Kentucky’s high school graduates are to be competent in math up through Algebra II.

Our research raises very disturbing questions about the lack of high school diploma quality control in Kentucky. Very simply, what is required to earn a diploma in the Bluegrass State varies dramatically across school districts.

Overall, thousands of Kentucky’s recent high school graduates probably don’t come close to meeting the math requirement and thousands also got a piece of paper but didn’t get a good enough education to be ready for either college or a career. That’s not helping the kids, and it is shortchanging Kentucky’s citizens, who are paying for this, too.

Bluegrass Beacon — Regulating’s first rule: Help, don’t harm

BluegrassBeaconLogoAmericans of all political persuasions want safe working conditions, clean air and unpolluted water.

But reform is clearly needed when government begins to regulate for the sake of regulating, and when doing so harms – even endangers – those citizens it’s called to protect.

For example, while the Food and Drug Administration was created to help safeguard the food supply and ensure reasonable protocols for drug safety, it too often uses its regulatory power to shield monopolizing companies from competition, which can block the path to lifesaving generic drugs.

Competition, on the other hand, reduces costs and increases access to many groundbreaking drugs and medical miracles.

It’s been just the opposite with EpiPen, a lifesaving anti-allergic reaction device, the cost of which has risen from $60 a few years ago to now $600 for a pack of two, even though the epinephrine included in the EpiPen costs less than $10 to manufacture.

This price tag forces some to ask: “Are we going to pay the mortgage or ensure our kids have this life-saving drug available should they get stung by a bee or suffer some other potentially fatal allergic reaction?”

Drastic choices like this could be avoided if regulators remained true to the fact that their agencies were created to help, not harm.

U.S. Sen. Rand Paul in a speech on the United States Senate floor recently highlighted the Clean Water Act as an example of the morphing of well-intended regulations that protect against the discharge of pollutants in navigable streams into job-killing “monsters that emerged from the toxic swamp of big-government bureaucrats at the EPA.”

Paul pummeled courts and regulators who “came to decide that dirt was a pollutant and your backyard just might have nexus to a puddle which has a nexus to a ditch which was frequented by a migratory bird that might have flown from the ditch to the Great Lakes. Ergo, the EPA can now jail you for putting dirt on your own land.”

Such morphing is helped along by the lack of serious, consistent reevaluation of well-intentioned rules that originally served useful purposes but now are enforced only because they remain on the books.

Former Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, whose Reaganesque reforms led to a dramatic economic turnaround in the Hoosier State, required proposals for new regulations to demonstrate favorable benefit-to-cost ratios and sunset provisions allowing reevaluation of their continuing usefulness every few years.

Daniels also demanded agencies search for an existing rule that could be updated before creating a new rule.

This approach could be helpful in Kentucky, where more than 3,500 of the 4,700 regulations in the regulatory code have never been reviewed.

Still, it’s rare for regulations – like taxes – to actually go away.

Instead, they swell to the point where the Competitive Enterprise Institute estimates it now costs each American household $15,000 annually just to comply with federal regulations.

Plus, state regulatory codes too often emulate Washington by mutating into ugly opponents of individual liberty and economic growth.

According to the Mercatus Center at George Mason University, while the U.S. Code of Federal Regulations grew from 71,000 pages in 1975 to 178,000 pages in 2015, the Kentucky Administrative Regulations Service (KARS), as it’s known, grew by a whopping 250 percent in the last four decades – from just four volumes in 1975 to currently 14 books.

The commonwealth’s regulatory code has become so large that it takes 367 hours – reading 40 hours a week at a rate of 300 words per minute for nine weeks – just to read it.

Large, increasingly complicated regulatory codes make it difficult for businesses and citizens to comply, which ultimately defeats any positive purpose of regulation by reducing compliance and incentives to improve safety while increasing uncertainty and frustration.

Jim Waters is president of the Bluegrass Institute; Kentucky’s free-market think tank. Reach him at jwaters@freedomkentucky.com. Read previously published columns at www.bipps.org.

More on the quality control problems with Kentucky’s high school diplomas – Part 3

If it did nothing else, a recently released, rather disappointing report about For All Kids, How Kentucky is Closing the High School Graduation Gap for Low-Income Students did focus attention on how Kentucky’s low-income students are faring. So, for Part 3 of our blogs about the problems with Kentucky’s high school diplomas in 2016, let’s take a look at an Algebra II versus graduation rate analysis for Kentucky’s low-income kids.

As we have seen in Part 1 and Part 2 of this blog series, Kentucky’s high school diploma has some really serious credibility issues.

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